“Where the hell is the starter button?” I couldn’t find one anywhere! I’d stopped to take some photos, and switched the motor off. Back on the bike, ready to go: turn the key, and … “Where the hell is the starter button?” You see, when I began my ride, the sales-manager had started the bike and had it idling and ready to go. So I hadn’t started it up to that point. And it didn’t look like I was going to – because I couldn’t find the starter! I looked in the obvious place – the rear side of the right-hand switch-block, but I couldn’t find it. There was a little button there, so I pressed that. Nothing. Pull the clutch in and try again: nothing. Then, as I pressed the little button, I noticed the modes changing on the display: okay, so that little button changes the engine-modes. So where is the starter? No other obvious buttons presented themselves, so I looked at the kill-switch. There were a few nondescript markings, including the usual run and stop symbols, but nothing else that was obvious. I tried pushing it and pressing it, but that did nothing. Maybe it’s operated by the ignition, like a car? Nope. I looked in silly places, like the left switch-block, down on the frame somewhere etc, but nothing! I was almost at that embarrassing point of having to call the dealer, when I tried the kill-switch again. Try pulling it back … success! The bike fired up and my embarrassment was avoided. I snicked it into 1st and blasted away! But we’ll leave the “blasting away” bit for the moment and go back to looking at just what it was I was riding. My trusty steed with the confusing starter-button was the (relatively) new Yamaha XSR900. It’s the latest iteration of the MT-09. First there was the Tracer, which was a kind of touring version, and now there’s this retro-type version. It’s a naked, of course, with a bit of mongrel street-racer thrown in, and was styled to appeal to that market. So Yamaha took the MT-09, re-did the styling to make it look retro, added a few café-racer features – like the added-on look of the tail-light, and almost home-made appearance of the headlight brackets, etc. They also tweaked the suspension, to make it better suit the new bike, although exactly what they did they aren’t saying. A couple of road-tests I’ve read have both stated that it felt like the springs were a bit firmer than the MT-09. There was a general consensus that the MT-09 needed better suspension. It was criticised by some people (including a mate of mine who bought one) as being a bit too soft. Although that was intriguing to me as I thought it was too firm. (But then I’m probably lighter than those other people). But if I thought the original was too firm, and this was stiffer in the suspension, that was going to be a bit of a problem to me. They also added on some extra features: it has ABS and traction-control as standard. The traction-control has two levels of intervention, and you can turn it off completely if you want to really be a hoon. You can’t turn the ABS off – and that’s as it should be on a road-bike I reckon!
IN THE DRIVEWAY
I must admit I’m not a big fan of the café-racer set, but I do like retro. And I do like the look of the XSR900; especially in the optional blue colour. (See photo at the bottom of this). In blue it is somewhat reminiscent of the XJR1300, which is perhaps what appeals to me about it. That would be my choice, although the one I test-rode, in grey and silver, looks great too. Oh, and the finish on that tank isn’t paint; it’s brushed-aluminium, which is pretty schmick! My first impression when I sat on the bike was that the seat felt quite high. And at 830mm, I suppose it is fairly high. I could still flat-foot the ground, but it felt high. It also felt hard – very hard actually! There is an optional “Comfort Seat”, and that would be a necessity I reckon! (I mentioned this option in my test of the Tracer). The riding position is quite upright of course, with wide bars. It’s a good riding position, and suits the style of bike. One thing that felt a bit odd though, was that my knees didn’t fit into the scooped-out sections on the tank: they were lower and against the edge of those sections. Maybe that was just my lanky legs, but I think shorter legs still wouldn’t fit into that scooped out section as they should either. The foot-pegs are well placed – comfortably low, and rear-set enough to encourage a sporty feel, as well as a good ergonomic seating position. They have serrated steel tops, with no rubber inserts: and that says a lot about the bike, actually. Comfort is obviously not a top priority – otherwise it would be softening the impacts upon your booted tootsies. No, it’s obviously designed to make sure your feet don’t slide off the pegs, not to have them soft and comfy. And I guess that goes for the rest of the bike too. The controls fell easily to hand (with the exception of the start-button!) and were very light and easy to use. I would’ve preferred the blinker switch to be a bit bigger, but it wasn’t a problem. The instruments are all housed within a round display unit that – in typical street-racer fashion – is mounted slightly off-centre above the headlight. It is all white-on-black, which makes it fairly easy to read. The speedo is a big white number in the centre of the dial. Around the outside is the tacho, in a series of numbers. Instead of a “needle” there is a moving band – just like in the old FB / EK Holdens! (The bike was idling when I took the photo, so you can see the band in the bottom left section of the dial). Engine mode and traction-control settings are displayed above and below the speed number. At the top of the dial is the ever-useful gear-position indicator. The side-stand was a little bit awkward: I found I had to fold the foot-peg out of the way with my foot to get at it. You’d get used to this no doubt, but I tell ‘em as I find ‘em: and I found this a bit clumsy. Oh, and I’m pleased to report that there is plenty of steering-lock! (See the Aprilia Shiver test!).
OUT ON THE ROAD
Started up (once you find which button to push!) the engine is typically very quiet. It doesn’t sound like a 900cc donk in a retro café-racer. But these days all new engines are quiet. Well, most are anyway. Don’t let that fool you though: behind that mild-mannered Clark Kent sound there is a Superman-like phone-box full of power. Yep, this thing goes great! I left it in Standard Mode, and it was a rocket even in that, giving great acceleration at the twist of the wrist. It’s very flexible too, pulling away from 2,000rpm even in top, without complaint. To further use the Superman analogy, Standard Mode is like Superman with his glasses and suit jacket still on. From my experience with the MT-09 I can tell you that when you switch to the more sporty A Mode the thing goes ballistic! This is Superman with his glasses and suit off and full cape flowing out behind. The bike is ready to leap tall buildings in a single wheelie, go faster than a speeding bullet (much faster if the said Bullet is an Enfield!), and be mistaken for low-flying aircraft. Yep, I said it before, it goes great! Top gear runs at 25kph per 1,000rpm. While personally I’d prefer it geared a bit higher, in reality it’s probably ideal for a naked fun bike. If you want a bike that is more of a sports-tourer, check out the Tracer – which is more touring-friendly (with a half-fairing and panniers and other mods), although the gearing is exactly the same. It’s happy to cruise at highway speeds anyway, with the typical 100 - 120kph range seeing the EK-Holden like tacho hovering around 4,000 - 5,000rpm. The gear-change felt a bit stiff, and I sometimes had trouble finding Neutral or clicking back through the gears when stationary. On the road it was generally okay, although on one occasion I had to have about three goes at getting out of 2nd. It only had about 1200km up when I started the test, so some of this stiffness could be attributed to being new. It generally wasn’t a problem anyway. Helping the gear-change on down-shifts, is the fitting of a slipper-clutch. The handling is great, of course. With the MT-09 I mentioned its motard-like characteristics and said that, to me, it felt a bit flighty but actually wasn’t. Well, most of that feels-flighty-but-it-isn’t characteristic has been replaced with a feeling of total stability; although it’s still there in certain situations. For example, when braking hard for a sharp corner, I felt tentative; I didn’t feel confident of throwing it around. In the test of the MT-09 I said, “You soon learn that it isn’t (flighty), it’s just quick and light. The technique is to know where you want to go and use less input at the bars to get there.” That’s pretty much it with this bike too. Like the MT-09 the steering is very light, although perhaps not quite as quick; so it is better (slower) in that respect. On sweepers I felt more confident: the bike just goes around, tracking precisely where you want it to. Of course, the more familiar with the bike you get, the more confident you’d be, and I’m sure you’d soon be flinging it around with total confidence. As I said with the MT-09, if you trust the bike you soon learn that it will just go where you want it to. But for an old bloke steeped in a tradition of self-preservation, it would take a little longer to build that trust in the bike and my ability to steer it properly in every situation. My suspicions of the ride were confirmed almost as soon as I pulled out onto the highway through town. I was feeling ripples in the road that I didn’t even know were there! Yes, the ride is very firm! Bigger bumps gave an even bigger hit – which was made all the worse by the hard seat. Once you’re up to about 100kph or so, the ride gets a bit more compliant and soaks up the bumps better; but as soon as it drops back to around 80 – 90kph the ride is jarringly firm. I rode along a section of choppy back-road (see the photo above) and the ride was very jiggly and uncomfortable. However there is adjustment available: both ends are adjustable for preload and rebound. I’d like to see an adjustment for compression damping as well, to soften the initial hit of bumps, but the adjustments that it does have would no doubt help. The brakes are excellent! They’re very responsive and super-strong. And you have the assurance of ABS to enable you to make the most of them without worrying about a lock-up. You’ll pay about $1700 more for this than for the basic MT-09, but this is much more than a styling exercise, it really is a different bike in many ways. With ABS, traction-control, different engine modes, slipper-clutch, and all that retro-cool, I reckon this is a lot of bike for something selling at just under 13 grand! It’s just a pity about that ride. Although that could be improved by adjustment and the optional “comfort seat”, I just can’t see it fixing it entirely. Not for my tastes anyway. If you’re not as critical about a soft ride this might be fine for you.
The XSR900 is based on the MT-09 of course, but with a retro styling makeover: plus a bit of cafe-racer thrown in. It looks great – in that retro-naked way – goes like a rocket, stops like it fell over something, but is a bit hard in suspension and seat for my tastes.
Engine: 3-cylinder, 847cc. Power: 85kW at 10,000rpm. Torque: 88Nm at 8,500rpm.
Suspension: Front: Telescopic fork, adjustable preload and rebound, 137mm travel. Rear: Monoshock with adjustable preload and rebound, 130mm travel.
Fuel capacity: 14 litres.
Weight: 195kg (ready to ride)
Seat height: 830mm.
Wheels / Tyres: Front: , Rear:
Brakes: Front: 120 X 17 , Rear: 180 X 17
Price: $12,999 (+ORC).